There are twelve tenses in English, each using a different structure to convey meaning. The following formula will help you identify the tense of each sentence. Once you have learned how to find the following grammar words even if they are hidden (Do, does and did are hidden in present tense verbs and past tense verbs, as you know.), you can easily do this. Start from top to bottom.
was were had did – past
has have had – perfect
-ing – continuous
If you have not got the name yet, try this one too.
5. is are am was were do does did – simple
Find the tense of the following sentences
We are going to school.
When will you come to school?
He sings very well.
He had done his duty.
They have gone home.
We had been waiting.
We decided to go home.
She will be reading it today.
She will have come home.
We have been trying to reach you.
Even though there are twelve tenses, only ten of these are frequently used. The future perfect and the future perfect tenses are rarely used. How to use a few of them is explained below.
1. He got a job. He applied for it.
This sounds like he applied for the job only after he got it. This cannot be true.
This error, a sequential error, can be corrected by either rewriting the sentence starting with the first sentence or by changing the second sentence to past perfect.
He got a job. He had applied for it.
See, now it sounds correct. This is how the past perfect (with a had in it) is mostly used. Whenever there is an error in sequence (and in English there is always this error) use past perfect to talk about what happened first even if it is mentioned first.
2. He was looking for his keys. He hasn’t found it. He is still looking for the keys. It has been an hour.
All these ideas can be expressed in one sentence if we use the right tense.
He has been looking for his keys for one hour.
This sentence carries the meaning of all the four sentences.
So, when we want to talk about what was happening and what is still happening, we should always use this tense.
(‘For’ and ‘since’ are often found in such sentences.)
3. Look at these sentences:
A dog is standing near the gate.
A man is standing near the gate.
A tree stands near the gate.
A memorial stands in the center of the city.
A policeman is guarding it.
Why are 1, 2, and 5 different from 3 and 4?
The difference is that a dog, a man and a policeman will not continue to stand there for long. But the tree will be there for long and so will be the memorial.
(So, what will not continue is talked about using the present continuous tense. Funny!)
Thus, those that will continue to be the way they are for long are talked about using the present simple tense.
Again, a contradiction. But this anomaly makes it easy to remember.
See, hear, smell, feel and taste are usually used in the present simple. But, what you understand from such sensations are talked about in the present continuous tense.
I hear thunder but I do not see any rain. It is surely raining somewhere.
I smell some delicious spice. Some one is cooking.
4. What tense do we see in history text books?
India achieved independence in 1947.
The Second World War ended in 1945.
Right, the past simple.
The past simple contains raw information about happenings at a certain time or date or year.
It is very straight forward.
But, a happening can also be mentioned in the present perfect.
The summer has come to an end.
The country has achieved independence.
These events are over but since we are using the present perfect, mind you present, the time or date or year cannot be mentioned.
Not just that. These sentences do not mean what they say. They mean something else. They, in fact, do not refer to the events as such, but to the consequences of those events.
5. Look at this conversation:
Before 1947, we used to give customs duty to the British.
Now, we don’t. Why?
Because we achieved independence in 1947.
This is better stated like this:
Because we have achieved independence.
Why does it sound better. It sounds better because the choice of tense (present perfect) suggests that ‘we don’t pay customs duty to the British as a consequence of our becoming independent.
In our every day life, as different from the history text book, we are more concerned about the results of our past actions rather than the actions themselves. So, the present perfect is used more than the past simple to refer to what we did or what happened.
6. Suppose you plan to write a novel and you are sure you will finish writing it in 2019.
You can express this accurately as:
By 2019, I will have written a novel.
Of course, the future perfect tense which is used to refer to an action which will be completed on a certain time in the future.
7. What if you already started writing the novel in 2010.
Answer this question:
When you finally finish that novel, how long will you have been writing.
(By 2019, I will have been writing that novel for nine years.)
Of course, the future perfect continuous tense, an elder brother of the present perfect continuous. It is used to talk about the time taken for an action which began in the past and ended in the future. Thank god we don’t need it so often.
8. I will talk about another tense now. I am going to tell you how to predict.
The future simple is used for predictions. But there are two other tenses too which you can use for this purpose.
The present simple can be used if you want to sound formal and sure and the present continuous (with reference to time) can be used if the prediction is informal and not so sure.
The school commences on June 2.
I am going abroad next week.